The ins and outs of psychology post-baccalaureate programs

Post-baccalaureate programs in psychology are designed for students who have a bachelor’s degree (in any discipline) and who are seeking additional preparation for psychology-oriented graduate programs and/or careers. Post-baccalaureate programs are a relatively recent development in psychology, but such programs have been available for decades in other disciplines (e.g., medicine, biology). For example, there are more than 125 medical post-baccalaureate programs across the United States, including programs at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Irvine. Recently, the demand for post-baccalaureate programs in psychology has increased, and a number of programs have been created at both public and private institutions including UC Irvine, Columbia University, Northwestern University and the University of Pittsburgh.

The Benefits of Post-Baccalaureate Programs

Many psychology post-baccalaureate programs are designed to benefit individuals planning to apply to graduate school. The demand for master’s level and doctoral level psychology professionals is expected to grow 22 percent from 2010 to 2020 in the United States, which is faster than the anticipated growth for the typical occupation. Competition for psychology-related graduate programs is high, and many college graduates who apply are not accepted.

Only 14 percent of applicants applying to social/personality psychology graduate programs and only 21 percent of applicants applying to clinical psychology graduate programs were admitted in the 2011-12 academic year.

In a nationwide survey of psychology graduate programs, admissions directors indicated that having taken psychology courses, having research experience, having psychology-oriented work or internship experience and having strong letters of recommendation were all important factors in admissions decisions. If you are weak in any of these areas, post-baccalaureate programs may be able to help you strengthen your application in so much as they offer psychology-oriented courses, research opportunities, internship opportunities, networking opportunities and/or individualized advising.

The Importance of Psychology in Medical Education

Similarly, students who are applying to medical school (or other health-oriented graduate programs) may find value in psychology post-baccalaureate programs. In 2015, the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) will be revised to include a section that focuses on psychological, social and biological foundations of behavior, and this section will make up one-fourth of a student’s total MCAT score. Given the acknowledgement by the Institute of Medicine that psychology is an important component to a complete medical education and a career in the medical field, some students with a bachelor’s degree in biology or related fields may wish to gain a deeper understanding of the field of psychology prior to entering medical school in order to better prepare for the MCAT and/or better prepare for a career as a physician, especially if the student is considering a specialization in psychiatry.

Psychology Programs and Their Influence of Career Mobility 

Finally, some post-baccalaureate programs are also designed to benefit individuals who are seeking a career change or advancement in a career that values psychology-related knowledge and skills. For example, the professions of social/human service assistant, mental health counselor and child care worker require a background in psychology. In addition, a number of careers require the ability to conduct statistical analyses, design research projects and conduct program evaluation (e.g., evaluation manager, research assistant, market research analyst), and some post-baccalaureate programs offer research-oriented courses and training that would be beneficial for these types of careers. Individuals interested in careers related to the intersection of psychology and law, such as probation officer or addiction specialist/substance abuse counselor, may benefit from the courses and training related to forensic psychology available in some post-baccalaureate programs.

Information About Psychology Post-Baccalaureate Programs

Currently, 14 psychology post-baccalaureate programs are offered at public or private, not-for-profit universities in the United States. Although they all offer psychology-oriented courses, the programs do differ from each other quite a bit with respect to the number of courses required to complete the program, research training, internship opportunities and cost. Some programs require as few as four courses in order to earn a certificate (e.g., Walden University), whereas other programs require as many as 18-24 courses to complete the program (e.g., UC Berkeley-Main Campus). Four provide extensive research training by offering a combination of research-oriented courses and hands-on research assistantships (UC Irvine, UC Berkeley-Main Campus, Columbia University and University of Pittsburgh), whereas most programs provide research training only in the form of courses (and a couple programs — such as California Southern University — do not provide any research training). Furthermore, three programs (UC Irvine, UC Berkeley-Main Campus and University of Arkansas at Little Rock) offer structured internship opportunities. Four programs are fully online (California Southern University, National Louis University, Northcentral University and Walden University), whereas the remaining 10 are in-person programs. Finally, tuition varies widely, from no cost (scholarship-based) for the program at the University of Pittsburgh to as much as $45,000 (or more) for programs at Columbia and UC Berkeley-Main Campus.

Below is a complete list of psychology post-baccalaureate programs as of July 2014 (in alphabetical order):

About the Author

Joanne is a lecturer with Security of Employment in the Department of Psychology and Social Behavior (PSB) at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). She completed her PhD in social/personality psychology at the University of California, Riverside in 2005 and her postdoctoral studies at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, in 2007. Since arriving at UCI in 2007, she has won several awards for her teaching, including the Campus Village Professor of the Month (2009), the Social Ecology Student Association Professor of the Quarter (2010), the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Fostering Undergraduate Research in the School of Social Ecology (2012), the UCI Lecturer of the Year Award (2012) and the UCI Yearbook/Senior Class Outstanding Professor in the School of Social Ecology (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014). In addition to her teaching activities, Zinger is the director of the post-baccalaureate program in psychology and social behavior and the coordinator of the PSB Excellence in Research Program.